By Imbecamiel

Rating: G? Possibly PG.

Characters: Frodo, Farmer Maggot assorted dogs, and one miscellaneous chicken. -g-

Summary: Written for SNWGC challenge # 1, "Frodo and Farmer Maggot". In chapter 4 of FOTR ("A Shortcul to Mushrooms") Frodo and Farmer Maggot talk about how Frodo used to steal mushrooms from the farmer's land when he was young and how, the last time he did it, Maggot gave him a beating and threatened to feed him to his dogs if he ever caught him at it again. This story is about the first time Frodo was caught attempting to steal mushrooms.

Disclaimer: Not Tolkien, not related to him, sadly... Therefore, not mine. -sighs-

A/N: Well, this is my very first solo story! I've co-autored a couple of fics with my sister, Nefhiriel (links for which you can find in my bio), but never anything on my own before. I hope you enjoy it! And please do let me know what you think. I love reading, but I'm quite new to writing myself - any comments and/or critisism will be much appreciated! Just please, keep it nice and constructive - believe me, I listen quite well without any need for flames :-)

The three dogs dozed lazily in the morning sunlight. They lay, relaxed in various states of sprawling comfort, in a tucked-away corner of a small farmyard. A cool breeze tempered the growing warmth of late spring, carrying to the three guardians the quiet, ordinary sounds and smells that assured them all was well.

Life had been easy of late. Aside from an incident with one of those wandering trespassers their master called "Rangers" - easily dealt with, as the man had no intention of harming the farmer, and had willingly moved on when ordered to do so - things had been quiet for weeks. Well, there had been the one overly inquisitive fox last week, but he had hardly presented a challenge to three strong dogs.

Ah, life was good... A wandering chicken passed within inches of the dogs' noses in its quest for stray insects and grain, but only one, the largest of the three, bothered to so much as open his eyes.

The dog's nostrils flared slightly as he tested the air for anything unexpected. Things may have been uneventful of late, but years of experience had taught him to be mistrustful of any long stretches of peace.

There! What was that?

The massive, wolf-like head shot up abruptly, startling the chicken into short-lived, squawking flight, as a shift in the breeze carried a new scent to the Head of Barnyard Security. As he surged to his feet, a low, rumbling growl alerted his companions, who quickly joined him. Three sets of ears pricked up and swiveled forward as, all senses alert, the dogs sought out more information on the disturbing smell.

Sensitive noses quickly informed them that this was neither a wandering fox, nor an invading wolf. The idea of it being a Man was seriously considered, then discarded. The only ones likely to be near were those "Rangers" and this did not smell like one of them. No, this was the smell of a Hobbit - and not one of the neighbors, either. Whoever it was, the person was not on the road, or any accepted path, and therefore couldn't be a visitor. That left only one option.

Intruder! Throwing his head back, the lead dog made the announcement with a loud howl, the other two immediately following suit. The sound of the house's back door slamming told them that the farmer was on his way. Not waiting for his arrival, the three took off toward the woods that surrounded their master's fields.

After their first loud call, the dogs ran in silence, painstakingly searching out the source of their disturbance. For a while, they ran without real direction, turning their heads, searching the breeze.

A short, sharp bark alerted the others when one of them finally found a firm track. The other two hurried to join him and, noses to the ground, they ran, their pace increasing as the scent grew stronger. They would find this sneaking intruder, and see to it that no harm came to what they had been set to guard. Yes, this was what they were trained for, bred for, born for!

The nearer they approached to their goal, the greater their excitement grew, and as they caught sight of him, they burst into furious, snarling barking.

Hearing their approach, the prowler leaped to his feet, backing away from them fearfully. In his haste, he tripped over his own feet, which were disproportionately large for his size, dropping the small bag he had held as he fell back to the ground. He scooted backwards, eyes wide with terror.

By the time he managed to scramble upright again, the dogs were around him, and his back was to a tree. Exultant now, the dogs continued barking. Growling angrily whenever the cornered trespasser made the slightest move, they eagerly waited for their master's arrival. They had done it, they had the stranger - their master would be pleased. With them, at any rate. He would not be so happy with their hapless prey, but that was hardly any concern of theirs.

The hobbit inched just slightly to his left, testing to see if any escape might be possible, and leader of the dogs lunged at him, teeth snapping shut a hairsbreadth from his hand. As he had intended, the hobbit froze in terror, not daring to move another muscle. Good. He knew better than to actually hurt this uninvited "guest" - he may be a sneak, but their master had made it quite clear that no one was ever to be harmed except on his express orders - but that didn't mean they couldn't frighten him a bit. After all, they could hardly have him escaping before the master got here, could they? No one caused trouble in their domain and got away with it.

Judging from the hobbit's trembling, he was more than just a "bit" frightened by the time the farmer arrived. In truth, as terrible as the farmer's wrath might be, it was almost a relief next to the prospect of being left to the mercies of these dogs.

"Well done, lads! Let's see what you've got hereā€¦" The portly hobbit called out. "Grip - back now!" this when the youngest dog, more than a little over-eager, failed to give way at his master's approach, continuing to stand in front of the cornered miscreant.

The now-repentant dog backed away, and the farmer came forward to take his place. He stood with arms crossed, eying the captive before him with equal parts of irritation and curiosity.

The boy was surprisingly young - no more than 13 or 14 years of age, he'd have guessed. Unusually slim for a hobbit, he had dark hair and bright, blue eyes. There was something about his face, though it was filled with fear at the moment, which suggested that it was far more used to an expression of practiced innocence.

The farmer cocked his head slightly. "Well, my boy, and who might you be?"

The lad swallowed hard before answering. "Frodo Baggins, sir."

"Frodo Baggins..." The farmer's voice was thoughtful. "Yes, I've heard a' you before. Quite the young rascal, aren't you?"

Frodo shifted his bare feet nervously as he kept his back pressed firmly against the tree, frequently darting glances at the dogs on either side. "Please, Mr. Maggot, sir, I-"

"Afraid of the dogs, are you? Well you might've thought a' that before you decided to come sneakin' around. What d'ya think you're doin' on my property anyway?"

The boy lowered his eyes, examining the ground as studiously as if the proper answer were written down there somewhere. Farmer Maggot gave a sigh of frustration. Looking around, he caught sight of something lying on the ground a short distance away. Stalking over, he snatched it up. Closer examination proved it to be a small bag, filled with mushrooms. Mushrooms! Outraged, he stormed back toward the young hobbit his dogs held prisoner.

"So! A thief as well as a trespasser, eh?"

Frodo bit his lip, again shifting apprehensively as he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the ground.

"Not goin' to answer, hmm?" the farmer scowled, his anger and indignation hardly abating at the boy's refusal to speak.

Frodo flinched slightly as Farmer Maggot reached out and grasped him by the collar, shaking him forcefully. When the boy finally raised impossibly wide blue eyes to meet his accusing glare, the farmer found himself suddenly torn. Certainly, he shouldn't have been here at all, much less poaching mushrooms, but really he was a very young boy, and after all was it such a very bad offense...

He caught himself then. No, this time there may not have been much harm done, but hidden beneath this deceptively ingenuous-looking face was a rascal whose fame was beginning to spread throughout Buckland. He may not have done anything too bad yet, but he was going to see to it that this lad knew that messing around on his property was not going to be tolerated. And really... Mushrooms! With an inarticulate growl of righteous anger, he began dragging Frodo back toward the farmhouse, maintaining his firm grip on the boy's collar.

The dogs followed behind, tails wagging happily now, all three quite proud and pleased with themselves for the way they had handled their job. As they straggled along behind their master, one or two at a time would race off, following some fascinating scent along the way. They never strayed too far, though - after all, the intruder was still on their property. The master might appear to have him under control at the moment, but one never knew with these trespassers. The farmer might be more than twice the interloper's size, yes, he was capable of taking care of himself, certainly, he had quite a firm grip on the robber, unquestionably, and said "robber" might be no more than a child, to be sure, but still... Best to be careful. It was their job to make sure the master and his property were safe, and they weren't about to fail in it.

The dogs were somewhat disappointed when, upon their arrival at the house, their master pushed the young intruder inside through the kitchen door, slamming the solid wooden door in their faces. They had rather hoped they might be invited in... It was always so much nicer, the times they were allowed in the house. Table scraps, a warm fire, soft rugs to lie on... Their furious tail-wagging slowed somewhat and, with a chorus of disappointed sighs, they settled down to wait.

At least the wait was not a boring one. Not as good as going inside, to be sure, but still interesting. Grip, the youngest, cocked his head curiously as he sat, listening to the sounds of shouting inside. He hadn't heard the master shout that loudly since he'd practiced his digging skills in the newly-planted garden... He shook himself slightly. That was not a happy memory. He was certainly glad he wasn't the one being shouted at.

All three dogs tensed in anticipation as the door finally slammed open, Frodo stumbling out and backing away as Farmer Maggot followed after him.

"And don't you let me catch you on my property again, boy! Next time you'll get a whole lot more than words, believe you me!" Turning his attention to the dogs then, he gestured to the boy. "Here now, lads. How'd you like to see our visitor off the property?"

Leaping up, the dogs rushed forward, snarling and growling enthusiastically. This was the best part about trespassers - almost as good as being allowed inside! All the instincts of their hunting ancestors rose to the surface as, eyes wide with terror, Frodo turned and ran, not bothering to go 'round to the road, but taking the most direct path off Farmer Maggot's land he could find.

Over fallen logs, around stones too large to leap, across a field, sliding under hedges and barely dodging trees, the dogs followed the young hobbit. Their eagerness ensured that they would never fall too far behind, but they were careful to never actually catch him either. They knew well enough that this was not allowed to be a serious hunt, but that didn't mean they couldn't enjoy the chase!

Occasionally letting out deep barks and menacing growls to encourage Frodo to run faster, they raced along close behind him. When the noise didn't seem to be having quite the effect they wanted, one or another would rush forward to nip at his heels, or snap their teeth shut inches from his ears. Frodo ducked his head, racing on, not daring to slow for a moment, despite his racing heart and panting breaths. Even so, they carefully slowed their own steps when he stumbled, not wanting to wind up on top of him if he should actually fall.

Abruptly, the dogs halted, as they reached the border of the farmer's property. The hobbit ran on, only sneaking one, barely-believing glance back at them over his shoulder as he disappeared through the bushes.

Seeing him well gone, the dogs threw back their heads in unison to give one last loud howl of triumph. Then they turned and, loping back at a much more leisurely pace, returned to the farmyard.

On their arrival, they found their master still standing there, waiting for them.

"Well done, my lads," he said, with a smile and a pat for each of them as they pressed near, tails still wagging madly. "You've had your fun today, haven't you?" And then, more to himself than to them, "And you're likely to have it again, if I guess rightly. Like as not, that young rascal will be back before long. I've a feeling it's going to take more than words to stop that one... Ah well, you caught 'im once, you can do it again, eh?" With a last affectionate pat, he turned around and walked back inside the house.

Content, the dogs returned to their corner of the farmyard. This time, however, they didn't relax quite so much. After all, there were trespassers about, and they had a job to do.

The End

Thanks very much for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story. And again - please do let me know what you think!

- Imbecamiel